Accounts report has ‘further damaged public trust’ in Betsi, says North Wales MS
A North Wales Labour MS has called on the region’s troubled health board to publish a ‘sobering’ report into its accounting issues.
Speaking in a Senedd debate about Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) on Wedensday, Clwyd South MS Ken Skates said the Ernst & Young report ‘has caused enormous interest in north Wales and has undoubtedly further damaged public trust in the organisation’.
BCUHB is currently seeking legal advice over publication. Mr Skates said it should be a case of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ – and believes BCUHB has a duty to rebuild public trust.
He told the Senedd: “Firstly, we should recognise that NHS staff in north Wales, as across the whole of the United Kingdom, do amazing work each and every day. As others have already said, the health board in north Wales is in special measures, but so too are more than 20 health boards in England, I believe, and that can be in no small part due to pressures resulting from years of austerity.
“But the designation of special measures status should not undermine our support or commitment to the NHS. Surely it’s those American health insurance companies and private health providers who are most excited and gleeful about so many English health boards, along with Betsi Cadwaladr, being in special measures. I believe that nobody in this Chamber wants them to realise their ambitions and take apart our precious NHS.
“The Ernst & Young report has caused enormous interest in north Wales, and information emerging from it has undoubtedly further damaged public trust in the organisation.
“The report is owned by the board, and the board must rebuild public trust in the organisation. To build trust, you must provide the truth and be transparent. The board should not be asking for legal advice over whether to publish the report, but instead seek legal advice over when and in what form it should be published, in a form and at a point that will not prejudice any disciplinary action that may have been initiated or may yet be initiated.
“Finally, I’d also urge the board to publish the legal advice it received, so the public can enjoy maximum transparency.”
Health Minister Eluned Morgan said: “The audit committee of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, on advice from the Welsh Government, commissioned Ernst & Young to undertake a forensic review of accounting management after Audit Wales qualified the health board’s accounts for 2021-22 and identified internal control failures.
“This was not our report, so I can’t ask for it to be published. This report was commissioned by the health board, so any decision to publish any or all of the report is a matter for the health board.”
Ms Morgan said that if the legal advice to BCUHB is to publish the report ‘in full or in part, that is what they will do’.
She added: “The report makes very sobering reading, and sets out some really serious failings in financial control at the health board. It did not find any evidence that anyone has personally benefited from these actions, but it did amount to extremely poor accounting practices. I have received assurances from the interim chair and interim chief executive that the health board has developed, and is implementing, a financial control action plan that responds to the issues raised in the EY report and Audit Wales findings.”
The Minister said her department is working closely with the health board on the development of a financial governance and management action plan as part of the special measures framework.
She added: “North Wales Police has yet to confirm whether it considers there are grounds to launch an investigation into claims made in the report. I know the police have had early discussions with NHS counter-fraud service and the health board and that the health board is co-operating. I would expect them to act in a transparent and honest manner, should the police decide to investigate.”
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